School fights admissions ruling

Judge says Michigan's race-conscious policy is unconstitutional

March 29, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

DETROIT - Neftara Clark always dreamed of going to the University of Michigan Law School.

But now her application is locked in the school's admissions office with thousands of others, as university lawyers prepare to appeal a federal judge's ruling that the school's race-conscious admissions policy is unconstitutional.

Yesterday, UM lawyers filed a motion to put on hold an injunction issued Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, barring the law school from using race as a factor in its admissions process.

Friedman's ruling that the school's policy is unconstitutional comes at the height of the admissions season, when admissions counselors are reviewing files at an "almost nonstop pace," according to court documents filed yesterday.

The injunction has effectively halted law school admissions.

In the documents, UM officials said the law school will suffer irreparable harm in the admissions process if the injunction stands.

"I'm on an emotional rollercoaster," said Clark, 22, of Battle Creek, Mich., who graduated from UM last August. "I called them two weeks ago, and they said my application was still being reviewed."

Clark, who is black, said she had thought about applying to a historically black college, but decided to attend a law school that reflects the diversity of the real world. Now she's concerned that she'll be penalized in a race-blind admissions process.

The law school has received about 4,000 applicants so far, and must extend between 1,050 and 1,200 offers in order to enroll a class of about 350 students for the fall. So far it has made 826 offers of admission, including 80 to under-represented minorities and 596 to white applicants.

If Friedman has not issued a stay of his injunction by April 2, lawyers for UM will request a stay from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals when they file a notice that they will appeal Friedman's decision in the case, said Liz Barry, the University of Michigan's deputy general counsel.

On Monday, the court of appeals agreed to hear the appeal in a similar case regarding UM's undergraduate admissions policy.

In that case, U.S. District Judge Patrick Duggan upheld a policy that uses a point system to determine who gets in. A student can receive points for being an under-represented minority as well as for being from Michigan or for having an alumnus for a parent.

Larry Purdy, one of several lawyers representing law school plaintiff Barbara Grutter, of Plymouth Township, Mich., said they will oppose UM's request to stay the injunction and oppose UM's appeal of the case. Grutter sued the law school in 1997, claiming she was denied admission in favor of less-qualified minorities.

Jeff Lehman, dean of the law school, said as soon as Friedman's ruling was issued Tuesday he directed admissions counselors to stop extending offers of admission.

In the request for the stay, UM lawyers argued that the admissions office "cannot simply surgically excise the consideration of race from application review overnight."

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